Breastfeeding Lingo: A Quick Guide to Common Terms

Breastfeeding Mom and Baby

If you’re reading this at 3 am, scrolling for help on your phone while cradling a hungry babe in the other arm — you aren’t alone. First-time moms and seasoned pros alike can run into unfamiliar issues while breastfeeding and pumping. Here are some terms you might run into along the way.

Talking about breastfeeding

Clogged ducts

A clogged milk duct — which develops as a small, tender lump on your breast — can result from a change in feeding schedule, a breast not draining fully or wearing tight clothing. Continuing to breastfeed will help it drain. Changing feeding positions, applying a warm washcloth and massaging can also help.

Cluster feeding

When your baby’s feeding sessions start to happen almost back-to-back, it’s called cluster feeding. Some babies seem to cluster feed before a growth spurt or in the evenings before a longer stretch of sleep at night.


When your baby is born, your breasts produce colostrum. This thick fluid is a kind of newborn “superfood” that contains the nutrients your baby needs and helps prevent infection. Over time, your breastmilk continues to adapt to your baby’s nutritional needs.

Engorged Breasts

As your milk comes in, you can quickly find yourself with too much of a good thing. If your milk production changes suddenly or you miss feedings, your breasts can become engorged or overfilled — sometimes painfully so. Warm showers and warm washcloths can reduce pressure before feedings.

Foremilk and hindmilk

Foremilk flows from your breast as your baby begins feeding, and it’s usually thinner than the higher-fat-content hindmilk that follows. Certain factors can affect the amount of foremilk vs. hindmilk your baby gets. But if your baby seems comfortable and has normal stools, they’re likely getting the right combination.


At the beginning of each feeding, it’s important to carefully line your baby’s jaw up to your breast to make a good connection. A proper latch helps your little one draw milk out safely and effectively, but it’s not always intuitive. Ask a lactation consultant for pointers if needed.


If your breast isn’t draining well enough, you can develop an infection called mastitis. If you notice swelling, burning or redness, or you have a fever or achy, flu-like symptoms, let your doctor, nurse or midwife know. You’ll need to take antibiotics, rest and keep breastfeeding to clear it up.

Milk bleb

Tiny, whitish spots on your nipple might be milk blebs or blisters caused by a latch that’s not quite right. These blisters usually go away on their own but can be painful. Keep the area clean and try to keep breastfeeding with good technique. A warm washcloth or gentle pressure can also help. If the area does not heal on its own, follow up with your provider.


Thrush is a yeast fungus that often flares up in babies. A possible sign is white patches in your baby’s mouth and fussiness that makes feeding difficult. You and your baby will likely both need to be treated with antifungal medication for thrush since you can pass it back and forth.


Pumping and bottle-feeding terms


Breast pump valves vary by shape. A duckbill valve — you guessed it — resembles a flat, wide duck bill. Some moms notice better suction or output from certain types of valves, so it’s worth experimenting if you’re looking for better results.


Flanges are a key part of your breast pump. Similar in shape to a funnel, flanges make a vacuum-style seal with your breasts so the pump can draw out milk. Choosing the right size flange for your nipple can help you avoid injury and get good results.

Hand express

Did you know you can express your breastmilk by hand, no pump needed? Hand expressing can help relieve engorged breasts, stimulate production or produce milk to feed your baby. It’s not a complicated process but it can feel tricky to get the hang of on your first go. How-to videos can help you perfect your technique.

Paced bottle feeding

Babies taking breastmilk or formula from a bottle sometimes eat too quickly or too much. Paced bottle feeding mimics the way your baby would feed from your breast. You can help your baby control the milk flow by using a small bottle with a slow-flow nipple and by holding it horizontally. Taking breaks every few swallows will also help your baby learn to eat at a slower, steadier pace.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend breastfeeding exclusively for your baby’s first four to six months. During this time, your provider will stay in close contact with you to offer support and help with any challenges you face.

If your baby isn’t gaining enough weight, your provider might refer you to a lactation consultant. These highly trained professionals can help you resolve any milk supply or latch issues. In some cases, they might also recommend supplementing your breast milk with formula.


Breastfeeding and pumping are a wonderful — and sometimes messy — affair. It’s normal to have questions, and when you do, we’re here to help with all the support and resources you need.

Ginny BowersMary “Ginny” Bowers, CNM, IBCLC, is a certified nurse-midwife and lactation consultant with Luminis Health Ob-Gyn. To make an appointment, call 410-820-0038.